Tribe 8 game line Overview
OVERVIEW OF THE TRIBE 8 RPG LINE
Once again I present an overview of an entire game line. The purpose of this is to judge the game relative to other RPG's and highlight which supplements are best or necessary.
"It was the year of fire
-4th season Babylon 5 title I apologise for such a lengthy quotation, but felt that these 10 lines sum up Tribe 8 in my mind. Its a game with the same style of epic 5 year story arc. Its a game filled with emotions, great hopes and heart breaking failures. Legendary storylines, incredibly compelling villains, strong characters excellent writing and a unique sense of self are also shared. And the talk of 'fire', 'destruction' and 'the end of history' capture the apocalyptic (and post apocalyptic) nature of the story and setting. In short, I believe that if you liked B5, then you'll like Tribe 8 .
Admittedly Tribe 8 is a very quirky and strange RPG, stylistically unlike anything I've seen before. In other words it is quite original, and benefits from that originality. It is a post-apocalyptic fantasy/horror game with lashings of feminist thought, Biblical themes and a story arc that JMS would be proud of. Except that its produced by the uniquely Quebeci Montreal based Dream Pod 9. It uses the same Silhouette system as seen in its sister games- Heavy Gear and Jovian Chronicles which you may be familiar with.
Tribe 8 is set in a post apocalyptic future, the magical island called Vimary built on the ruins of Montreal. Somewhere between now and this undated future, a morally apathetic humanity forgets God and this allows spiritual horrors called Z'Bri to materialise on this plane.
The Silhouette system used is surprisingly simple in its task resolution. Characters have both attributes (Build, Intelligence, Agility etc.) and skills. Attributes are rated from around -4 (disabled) to +4 (Superhuman) whilst skills go from 0-5. To succeed at an action the player rolls a number of d6 equal to their skill level and adds their attribute modifier to the highest result. Should this number exceed a GM set difficulty level, then they succeed. The greater the difference between result and target number, the greater the margin of success (MoS) or margin of failure (MoF). Additionally, when rolling multiple dice, and you get multiple 6's, then you add 1 to the die total for each 6 beyond the first.
Unfortunately, damage dealing is somewhat complicated, as it involves multiplying damage ratings by Margins of Success to get a number that must exceed a certain threshold to wound. Suffice to say, its hard to kill, and combat can drag on with an unsatisfying accumulation of light and deep wounds, that eventually kill you through blood loss. This system really lacks the drama and absoluteness of hit point reductions and therefore loses substance points.
Magic in Tribe 8 is handled quite well. Called synthesis, Tribals draw it from their connection to the Fatimas who are creatures of both the 'River of Dream' and the physical plane. This 'Synthesis' of dream and reality allows magical effects connected to the Fatimas aspect (such as War, or Procreation, or Death) to occur. The Synthesis rules are very vague in the main rulebook, but improved in the T8 Companion FAQ. Still, the effects fit the freewheeling, dreamlike quality of the game.
DP9 have produced a number of setting books for Tribe 8 , expanding substantially on the information presented in the main rulebook. The first, 'Vimary',expands on everything in Vimary itself, from where the Tribes live, to the Keepers Rust Wastes and beyond. It also highlights prominent individuals at each location and talks about the factions plans and secrets. All in all, a vital book for ongoing campaigns, though I do wonder why it wasn't squeezed into the rulebook, where some of this information belongs.
The 'Tribe 8 Companion' is an interesting work concentrating on the Lost tribes of Joshua and Mary, and the Keepers. It has a nice Synthesis FAQ, information on the economics and populations of Vimary and the informal tribal government agencies called 'Quest Circles.' Two average quality adventures round this book off. Its useful, but non-essential to T8.
'Into the Outlands' and 'Word from the North' turn their focus onto the lands outside of the island of Vimary. Outlands is by far the more useful book (at least for the time being) as it covers in broad brush strokes the Squat, Keeper and Z'Bri centres of power and relationships. Perhaps its my poor knowledge of north American geography, but I often found it hard to understand where certain groups existed, and the 'in character' explanations and accounts make for a very muddled picture. This would have been better as a slightly drier atlas. 'WftN' looks instead at the Z'Bri city of Capal far to the North. Again it suffers from the first person accounts style which means it often difficult to get a coherent sense of the place. Even worse, a strong fiction element intrudes, distracting from the location guide. As of November 2000, this book has very little use, but I expect it to be vital for the next cycle-campaign as the Fallen seek Joshua's Heartstone in Capal, where it will be invaluable.
Finally we have the T8 splatbooks- 'Word of the Fates' and 'Word of the Pillars.' The former covers the tribes of Baba Yaga, Eva and Magdalen, the later covers Joan and Tera Sheba. Unfortunately I've read neither and so cannot give a fair assessment of their quality. I can however say that they appear to be non-essential as they are rarely referenced and the important characters usually appear in the RB, Vimary, or the Cycle books.
CYCLE BOOKS. As mentioned earlier, Tribe 8 has a story arc on par with Babylon 5. Whilst the background is established in the rulebook and sourcebooks, the real narrative for the book comes from these linked cycle books. Combined into an ongoing campaign, they capture that rarest of elements- pacing. The characters ups and downs, discoveries and transformations are timed to perfection, creating a sensation of change and progress. Events are foreshadowed, obscure references are followed up later, NPC's become real.
Anyway a cycle is T8 code for a campaign/adventure book. So far there have been 2 big campaigns, each made up of three cycle books. The first 'Children of Prophecy' is covered in the Weavers Screen, Children of Lilith and Trial by Fire. Essentially this whole campaign relates to one line of Joshua's Prophecy for the 8th Tribe, that they will be "spat upon and tricked, tried and killed". The 'Weavers Screen' sets the ground work for this, including a visit to the Joshuan village of Mahgog.
The second campaign 'Conquest' is unfinished as of the time of this review. It begins with 'the Warrior Unbound' in which Joan invites the Fallen to re-enter Tribal society by joining the Joanites. This provokes uproar once again and Joan is forced to go on a dream quest to vindicate her position. The PC's aid her eventual success against Z'Bri conspirators and a hostile Tera Sheba, and Joan gets her voice back.
Tribe 8 is a unique game. It resonates with epic legend. Its dramatic and exciting, and whilst the rules system is nothing to write home about, at least it doesn't distract from the story.
But, if you cant stand this approach, then stay away from Tribe 8 . You don't mind this 'serialisation' then you'll find that T8 is the best example of it, far better than White Wolfs clumsy metaplots or Deadlands ongoing story.
The other advantage to such an NPC and story driven game, is that it allows truly epic games to be played. It's sort of like telling King Arthur's legends with Pendragon. The players may not be able to affect the ultimate course of events, but their actions are highlighted against a truly epic background. Furthermore the NPC's are sympathetic enough for both GM and players to identify with. Suddenly we care what happens in this mutually shared imagined world. For example in 'Broken Pact' where the nasty High Judge Cylix finally gets his comeuppance, I almost found myself shouting 'Go Joan, go!'.
The other problem with Tribe 8 is its sheer excellence. The writing is so good in the cycle books, that I seriously doubt that I could produce a better campaign for my players. Its one of those games, where you need just the right mix of players and atmosphere to do it justice. Pull it off, and you'll have an unforgettable role-playing experience, but if you don't then you'll forever be disappointed. In that sense, its a high-upkeep game, requiring both GM and players to perform at their peak and refrain from making jokes about it. It'll also cost financially to buy the books, but rest assured, for the quality of campaign, they are on par, or better than 'Masks of Nyarlathotep'.
That said, most game companies would kill to have a game with these 'flaws' of sheer writing excellence and an epic, engaging storyline. Tribe 8 does have a few genuinely bad flaws. Firstly, and most importantly its a very expensive game to collect. Both rule book and especially supplements are very expensive for their size. For example WW's 'Transylvania Chronicles 4' has only a few pages more than the 'Tribe 8 Companion'. Yet the former retails in the UK for £9.00 whilst DP9's book costs £12.00. In fact 'Word from the North' has half the pages of the Chronicles book, but costs the same! Don't get into this game without preparing yourself for some high prices. Fortunately the quality of the product usually assuages the pain of the mark-up.
Another flaw is the spelling in Tribe 8 . The editing is fine, words don't run over pictures, and the formatting is all ship-shape and Bristol fashion. But the most outrageous spelling errors crop up in every book, as if the spell checker has put the wrong related word in every time. A friend of mine claims that this is because English is not the first language of the Quebec based company, but I wonder why they cannot hire a professional proof reader?
Now lets compare T8 with other games. Rules wise I'd say that it is more complicated than both D&D3 and Cthulhu, but probably on par with Vampire. As for setting, it wins hands down as the most original, interesting, engaging, epic and detailed setting that I've seen.
Unfortunately this is not a game that can survive with the rulebook alone. To run a campaign of your own devising, you'll probably benefit from the 'Vimary' and 'Horrors of the Z'Bri' books. The 'T8 Companion' is useful but non-essential. However, the true magic of the game comes from the cycle, and if you want the epic B5 like story line that I've praised so much, then you really should get them. All of them. You wont regret it! (except possibly the Weavers Screen). With UK prices, your looking at spending almost £100, but with the right players, you'll get an epic campaign that will last over 2 years and be spoken about for 10 times as long.
Where though would I put it in relative terms to the rest of the gaming industry? Whilst its setting is brilliant, the twin problems of uninspiring rules and a lack of PC importance must put it below games which stress the characters first- AD&D, Vampire, Cthulhu, Deadlands, and even L5R. Unfortunately I'd put it in about 6th or 7th place in my top RPG list.
In terms of points, its original, cool and confident atmosphere nets it a 5 for Style.
But because of the rules and the lack of PC importance, I'm forced to give it a substance rating of 3. However its storys alone would rate a 5.
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 3 (Average)